As ever, the sun was too big in the sky and heat drilled down into the too-emerald green meadows that Helena strolled through in no particular rush. Flowers waved at her, faceless, but all full of a disconcerting joviality - they danced rhythmically, following that same flame-dance.
She walked slowly because she knew that to travel much faster by foot would drain on her energy far too much. Because she knew the rules. She knew the dangers.
Helena had been walking for a couple of hours and the landscape had altered dramatically during the short time. From sharp ridges and large hills and mounds to the rolling Anglian hills and forests. Up ahead was the tree line of another forest. Helena breathed a sigh of mixed emotion - relief and anticipation. Forests provided cover and food, materials and weapons. They also provided danger.
Helena's last trip into a forest had put her in the position she was in now. Lost for days, she had been forced to hunt the King's deer (a crime yet to be realised by the royal guard), attacked by bandits and she was almost sure, followed by someone.
As she drew closer to the forest she heard a cacophonous boom. Upturned just within the forest threshold, an old fashioned carriage usually pulled by horses. Helena stepped forward with more caution - bandits were abroad. She had no weapons, nothing to help her, just her hands.
She perched on the path, just the other side of a mound, this time she'd be more cautious, she wouldn't rush in, she'd survey her surroundings.
The trees around the carriage were ember ridden and frazzled. The coach had burst in a splinter of expensive looking wood.
"A bomb?" - Helena whispered to herself.
She scanned the edge of the forest - hooded in dark robes, figures perched among the trees, eyes watching the wreckage.
Helena cursed herself for not having searched out any weapons before now - how unprepared of her. She watched on as figures emerged from the coach, scorched and bleeding. They stumbled away from the smoky plumes that emerged from the fire upon their carriage.
Unprepared, she watched as one of the cloaked figures raised a hand, fire whirling around it, and let their arm snap at the elbow, flinging a snake of fire through the treeline towards the unsuspecting victims of the ambush.
Boom. The mess of wood splintered again, a burst of flames and slithers of wood flung into the sky.
Helena stood, mouth agape as she watched the two passengers that had made it out were tossed to the floor like rag dolls. Still she hung back over the hill.
The cloaked figures, having affirmed their dominion over the carriage dwellers seemed to think now was a safe time to leave their hiding places. Seven strolled purposefully out into the clearing and towards the two survivors who now clambered, ungainly to their feet once more, long bright swords emerging, sparkling flame-like in their hands.
Helena watched as they attempted to deflect balls of light thrown at them by the cloaked figures - a couple of times they were successful and managed to accurately target two of their assailants.
It wasn't long before they were defeated though, their bodies lying limp, a bright white energy pulsing in their chests.
"what the hell is this?" Helena whispered.
The attackers crouched over their victims bodies, rummaging for whatever it was they had attacked them for - they had no interest in weapons - their swords still laid at their sides.
Helena waited until the group dispersed, leaving their dead, disrespectfully, Helena thought. She climbed to her feet and descended into the clearing, cautiously.
She perched at the side of one of the victims, feeling for a heartbeat - she wasn't sure if she would feel one even if he was "alive". He was young, about her age. His eyes opened suddenly, his hand thundering up to grab her around the neck.
"Who are you?" His voice croaked.
"Not sure you're in a position to ask questions" Helena knocked his hand away with little effort.
"Tell me now, my teardrops, did they take them?"
"Well they didn't want you for your charming personality."
"Have you any?"
"No, mine were taken too."
"The carriage, there are some in there. Get them for me."
"You're not in a position to make demands either." Helena stood.
"Wait, please, wait. Get it for me and I'll give you my sword."
"I can just take your sword if I want it." Helena sneered.
"Yes, but only I can teach you it's secrets..."